The Golden Cave Secret, fiction by Jegadeesh Kumar at

The Golden Cave Secret

The Golden Cave Secret

written by: Jegadeesh Kumar



An old building with rough walls and no lime plaster on the outside. Broken saws, rusted horseshoes, and splintered telephone sets piled in a heap on a huge cart by the walls. If you got on the cart, you could put your foot on the first window’s sill and grab the second window’s bar. Only the front and back of the building were guarded by men. Empty liquor bottles, old newspapers, and banana pseudo stems strewn across the floor. He likes to inhale the odors that emanate from garbage.

He climbs aboard the cart and leaps to grab the bar on the first window. But from there, getting to the second window wasn’t easy. A little mishap, you would tumble onto the broken saws on the ground. After a ten-minute attempt, he can reach the second window. In the twilight inside, Gayatri sits with her arms wrapped around her knees, wearing a floral top with short sleeves and a navy blue skirt. The light flickering through the vents revealed dust that filled the entire room. Wooden tables and frames are stacked high in a corner.

He couldn’t tell if it is a dream or fantasy in which just the mind is awake but the body is not. He is ecstatic at the possibility of arriving alone and saving her before anyone else could. He jumps in through the window, approaches her, and sits beside her. She doesn’t turn to look at him, and her body slightly trembles. He pulls her tightly against his shoulder, feeling her smoothness, smelling her distinct scent. The same smell he smelled when she put her hand around his shoulder, scheming secret plans while they were playing thief-police games.

His embrace must have been tight and warm. Her trembling has subsided. But he doesn’t want to let go of her. He has imagined this situation countless times but has never had the courage to fantasize beyond that point. He was terrified that if he crossed the line, the image he had made of her would be ruined. Also, he’s never had enough time to develop his fantasy. When he tries to dwell in his imagination before going to sleep at night, he falls asleep before he can go any further. When he wakes up in the morning and lies in bed thinking about her, Grandmother invariably calls for him in the middle of his fantasy.

Even now, since Grandmother has woken him up for their morning tea, the picture of him sitting with Gayatri in a tight embrace has been forced to be preserved in its hazy texture. He gets up, picks up the stainless steel can, takes cash from Grandmother, and heads out to the tea shop. The dawn is still shrouded in darkness. Bus twenty-four passes him, carrying market women and their vegetable baskets. Women in saris sit on their haunches at the entrance of a few houses, exposing their pearly white calf muscles, absorbed in drawing kolams on the damp ground. The cool wind of dawn blows through his clothes, synchronized with the Textool company’s siren that signals the night shift worker’s morning teatime, and prickles his skin with goosebumps.
He walks into the teashop that has been bathed in an amber glow from the dull mercury street lamp. He orders tea for four rupees at the tea master counter, and then picks up a butter cookie from one of the glass jars that line the front of the counter with multi-shaped biscuits, cakes, and Ooty varkey. Grandfather dislikes tea from this shop, complaining about the quantity, or lack thereof. The tea shop across from Madeena Stores fills tea to the brim of the can for four rupees. Generous enough for seven people. He detests walking up to Madeena Stores, a daunting task when sleep still lingers in your eyes. Aside from that, he would only have coconut buns in that shop. He is not prepared to invest the one rupee he earns for getting up early and fetching tea into that stale coconut bun.

Uncle Arumugam takes a bath and gets ready before he can finish his tea-soaked butter cookie. He hands him his purse, and rests his hand on his shoulder. Both come out and walk towards the bus station, as he struggles to cope with Uncle’s stumbling and faltering. They walk for ten minutes, and when they arrive at the bus station’s shelter Uncle wakes up the sleeping beggar by beating him, kicking him, cursing him out with filthy comments. The beggar scratches his dirty, matted hair, gathers up his greasy ragged garments, and walks up to another pillar to curl up and sleep. He opens the desk’s side drawer, pulls out a stool, a stand for displaying lottery tickets, and a bag of clips. He unlocks the chain that tethers the desk to the pillar and places it inside the drawer.

The morning breeze is beginning to pick up, bringing with it a hint of the coming sunrise. As the sky lightens, the hues of dawn begin to appear, painting the sky in shades of pink and orange. Birds chirp in the distance, and the early morning light casts a warm glow over the bus station. On the other side of the road, market women put out produce baskets and begin screaming prices. The stench of fish delivered by minivans from Kerala wafts through the air and reaches him, bringing with it a tinge of saltiness. The song, ‘Vinayagane vinai theerpavane,’ has begun to play on the Pillayar temple’s loudspeaker, which is located at the bus station road’s junction. He sets the stand on the desk and both he and Uncle begin to insert clips on the stand’s rows. He struggles to put on some of the clips that were unusually tight, jerking from his hands and flying in the air even when he tries with both hands. He brings both his hands together, grips the clip tightly, and with a tremendous effort, pushes it in, and secures it in the stand. He looks down at his palms. The thumbs and forefingers are both pinkish-red. Now he will insert lottery tickets into each of those clips.
Uncle pulls wads of lottery tickets from his bag and offers them to him. Today’s lottery, Nagaland Bumper, must be placed in the bottom row in sets of ten, each of which costs ten rupees. One rupee twenty paise each if purchased separately. Bhutan, which sells every day regardless of the date it is drawn, must be put in the middle row. Uncle will not collect the sale commission on the winnings because Bhutan lotteries are exempt from tax. Tamil Nadu Government lottery, Kerala Bumper, and Kuber can be put in bunches at the top row.

Before he can finish the first row, a crowd gathers in front of the shop to check yesterday’s lottery results. Uncle gives him three rupees and asks to buy magazines Adrishtam and Dinamalar, in which the lottery results are published. He walks to the petty shop near the Taj Mahal restaurant, a hundred feet from the bus station’s shelter.

He has to wait his turn since a small crowd stands in front of the shop to purchase newspapers, magazines, Pan Parag. Muthu Comics books are hung lengthwise behind banana bunches. It appears to him to be a story he has not read. Must be the current week’s issue. He has read stories of The Iron Hand Wizard, Crime Emperor Spider (he liked Spider’s adventures when he was originally a villain), Karumalai Island, Clown’s murders, and other fantasy stories at Meena Akka’s house. He would go straight to her house after school just to read those books. Meena Akka would get him a book and something to eat as soon as he arrived at her house. He would return home only after finishing the book, even if it was seven o’clock at night. Akka never let anyone take a book home with them. “Have you been roaming around the town?” Grandfather would ask irritably. Meena Akka has married and moved to Neiveli. She has promised to take him to the coal town at some point.

“How much is it, Anna?” he asks as he points to the book. The shopkeeper pulls out a book, and says, “Take it. Three rupees.” “No. I don’t have any cash. I’ll come later with the money,” he says. The shopkeeper chastises him for his frivolity and offers him the magazines he ordered. He stands there for a few minutes more, clutching the magazines in his hands. On the cover, the Sheriff is perched on a rearing horse with a flowing mane. He is dressed in a full-sleeved khaki shirt and slacks with countless pockets. He wears a cowboy hat and holds a handgun in his right hand, which he has removed from one of the holsters that clung to his thighs. A young woman and a Native American man wearing a feathered headdress, with barren mountains and a desert in the background. The sun is scorching the scene. The book’s title reads ‘The Golden Cave Secret.’ As he stands, he tries to guess the story. His desire to purchase the book flares up as he imagines, and he wonders how he is going to manage the three rupees for the book. “What are you doing there? Come here quickly!” calls out Uncle from his seat.
If a ticket wins a prize, Uncle insists that his customers buy tickets for half the prize money. He will only pay in full if the ticket is purchased from his shop since he purchases lottery tickets from wholesale shops with a Transaction Certificate, and receives a commission for the winning tickets. On Tuesdays and Fridays, he sends him to S.S. Maniyan or Shekar lottery centers to buy tickets at wholesale prices. He would stamp the back of the purchased tickets (at least 2000 in a week) with the name of Uncle’s shop, Deva Maindhan Lottery Center. Uncle is now infatuated with Christ and his mother. Every year, he visits Velankanni to pray for complete healing of his legs. From there he brings rings with the embossed images of Jesus and Mother Mary, chains, and Idols of Mother Velankanni that glow in the dark.

Uncle’s devotion to Jesus resulted in two life changes for him, one voluntary and one involuntary. The all-powerful, conch-chakra holder Maha Vishnu, and Vinayaka, who has become his latest hero through the Puranic legends appearing on the back cover of monthly astrology magazines, have to make room for the pitiful, thorn-crowned, bleeding Jesus. At first, he struggled to accept this unwelcome change, which no one at home seemed to notice. On no moon days, a coconut is broken and lamp light is shown to Jesus too, along with the other Hindu gods. Now, during the month of December, they paste colored papers to the walls, hang balloons and stars from the roof, and begin celebrating Christmas.

Uncle’s copy of the New Testament and the booklets containing parables of a good samaritan that arrive from various prayer houses console him in his disappointment. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,’ says Jesus. He believed Jesus made the statement just for him. He thought that the New Testament was repeating itself every sixty pages. Although the pamphlets represent similar stories and events as the New Testament, he believes they are more captivating.

Ramesh emerges from behind the two wheeler spare parts shop. “Ooi!” he calls out, looking at him with an impish smile. His face brightens up. “Chittappa, give me some of today’s tickets. I’ll go and sell them,” he tells Uncle.

“First, you go and buy me tea,” says Uncle. He rushes to the teashop, ecstatic that he will be paid one rupee for his services. Uncle hands him thirty tickets while sipping his tea. He signals to Ramesh, and they both trot across the road. He climbs onto bus number 3 and extends the tickets to an elderly man dressed in a jibba. “Dei, go away. Such trouble at the start of the day,” the old man remarks dismissively. He goes quickly forward, past a young couple sitting stiffly next to each other, and approaches the front, hoping to ask the driver if he is interested, when the portly woman who sits on the bonnet inquires, “Is it today’s ticket?”

He makes a two-rupee profit because she buys twenty tickets herself. Returning the remaining tickets to Uncle, settling the account, and returning home with a copy of the Golden Cave Secret: all happened in a flash.

Sheriff appears unfazed by anything. His daughter has informed him that the archaeologist who knows the location of Golden Cave has been abducted. The local Indian chief has promised to help. Before he can continue, Grandmother calls from the Kitchen, “Haven’t you gotten ready yet?”

He puts down the Golden Cave Secret and picks up his Tamil textbook. On this occasion, Gayatri sits on a horse in a side saddle position. He grips the reins with one hand while resting the other on her shoulder. When he notices tears screening her eyes his heart melts. “Vanagi, mannagi, valiyagi, oliyagi…” As he continues to recite, he realizes that the poem has already been imprinted on his mind. Turning the pages of the book, he does not feel like studying. Grandmother asks him to go take a bath.
He showers, changes into his school clothes, and grabs his exam pad. “I’m leaving, Patti,” he says as he walks through the front door. Grandmother appears and asks, “Aren’t you eating anything? There’s some coconut and some leftover, soaked rice.” He walks away, shaking his head.

“He has a needle-shaped throat. Food doesn’t pass through it easily. But he is a smart fellow. Always comes first in the class, even if he doesn’t prepare well,” says Grandmother to Mythili Akka from the opposite house.

Latest posts by Jegadeesh Kumar (see all)